This study began as an account of a litigation campaign—the campaign by women's organizations to use the courts to overturn state criminal abortion laws—its historical antecedents and some of its political consequences. Thirteen years after Roe v. Wade, it seems important not only to describe the use of litigation as a method of changing public policy, but to make some attempt to assess the impact of Roe to see what we can learn about the consequences, intended and unintended, of a Supreme Court decision.
The use of litigation as one of the avenues for changing the direction of public policy is not new. Clement Vose's Constitutional Change, published in 1972, examined a number of organized attempts by interest groups to use the courts for such purposes during the nineteenth century. But it was really the decision in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), the result of an extended litigation campaign by the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund to overturn public school segregation, that suddenly revealed the possibilities of litigation as a political strategy. 1 The success of this effort encouraged other groups to consider using the courts as an alternate means of exerting leverage on the political system.
After Brown, it was initially suggested that litigation was a tactic particularly suited to instances in which politically disadvantaged